The private foundation Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI) is making significant inroads in Palawan, promoting rabbit farming and building heightened awareness about its livelihood potential as an alternative meat product.
A project that began in 2019 in partnership with the provincial government and the municipality of El Nido has so far trained over 200 farmers in its Palawan Eco-Agro Park (PEAP) since it was launched in 2018.
Edgar Clamor, who works for PSFI as project officer of PEAP, said they are nearing the completion of their introductory program and have encouraged a growing number of farmers to go into the business of rabbit raising.
He said there are about 50 rabbit farmers in Palawan so far and they have organized themselves under the Palawan Rabbit Producers Cooperative (PRPC) to promote this emerging farming sector.
“Information dissemination lang kulang natin pero kung tutulungan tayo ng LGU, napakadali lang nito. Siguro, less than six months, napakarami nang [raiser]. Kung makatikim lang kasi ang tao ng rabbit—ang nakikita ko ay information dissemination lang, ‘yong pag-educate sa tao kung paano siya kainin,” he said.
Pet or meat?
One key challenge facing rabbit farmers is the prevailing public perception that rabbits are mainly pets and, thus, should not be raised and slaughtered like hogs or chicken.
“Hirap talaga kami so far to encourage people doon sa mindset na rabbit is for meat. Alam mo naman ang Pilipino na kapag sinabi mong rabbit ay for pet lang,” Clamor said.
In PEAP, he said they require trainees and participants of rabbit raising to try rabbit meat so they would appreciate its quality. He stated that people should know that aside from being low in fat, rabbit meat is high in protein, almost negative in cholesterol and rich in vitamins.
He believes that there is still strong need for an information campaign by local government units to help the public appreciate the benefits of rabbit meat.
“Kailangan tanggalin natin ‘yong nasa utak ng tao na pet lang siya, ang cute niya, kawawa naman and so on and so forth. Dapat nakikita rin nila na masarap ito, na for my health, ‘yong ganon,” Clamor added.
Allen Joshua Rapues, a professional photographer who ventured into rabbit farming, pointed out that rabbit meat has less fat compared to pork.
“Mas maganda siya compared sa baboy at baka dahil pure ang laman niya, siguro hindi ka na maha-high blood dahil ang ganda ng meat niya,” Rapues stated.
He explained that there are separate breeds intended for meat production and pet raising. He also encourages that raising a rabbit could give you a pet, a potential source of income, and produce it as a meat.
“May klase ka talaga ng rabbit like New Zealand and California, iyan talaga ang type ng rabbit na pang-meat. Iyong usual na luto natin sa baboy at baka ay pwede natin i-apply sa karne ng rabbit. Meron naman mga super cute, magaganda ang istura, iyon ang mga tinatawag natin na fancy rabbit o pang-pet, iyon talaga nakakaawa katayin and at the same time ay mahal din,” he said.
They noted that during the last Christmas season, there was a good demand for rabbit meat, particularly rabbin lechon. Rapues himself admitted he got hooked into the business after doing a documentary on the subject last year.
“Nalaman ko na ang rabbit pala ay maganda sa katawan ‘yong meat. Tatlong bagay ang natutunan ko roon. Ang rabbit ay pang-meat, pang-pet, at pwedeng pambenta. Syempre alam mo panahon ng lockdown, kami mga apektado dahil sa industry ng photography ay bawal ang mga event, nag-decide ako na kahit humaba man ang lockdown at least may mga karne kami na pwedeng kainin,” he said.
Rapues personally believes that it is a good alternative after the recent shortage of pork supply as African Swine Fever (ASF) affected hog raising industry.
Investment in rabbit raising
Clamor said that the biggest investment for a farmer who plans to do rabbit raising for a long-run is the cage where you have to choose good materials to avoid rat bite attacks on rabbits and for them to escape.
Aside from cage, rabbit raisers must also be knowledgeable with the types of grass to feed them as they are sensitive with watery grass.
“Ang isa sa problema kasi ng mga nagra-rabbit lalo na diyan sa Puerto [Princesa] ay walang mapagkukuhaan ng maraming damo kasi herbivores naman itong rabbit. Binibigyan lang namin sila ng parent para at least kung tinatamad sila kumuha ng damo sa umaga, kailangan tanggalin mo ‘yong hamog sa damo kasi sensitive ang rabbit dahil sa napakanipis ng lamang-loob ng rabbit kaya medyo sensitive sila sa watery na damo,” he said.
Clamor and Rapues said based from their experiences that raising a rabbit is low maintenance compared to other animals and less complicated as rabbits are only fed during morning and afternoon by grass, feeds, and continuous supply of water.
Clamor said that best breeds for meat production are those New Zealand and California breed of rabbit which usually weigh about five kilos. Rapues added that those interested to farm may start from a small one so they could observe its growth and gain knowledge on how to take care and grow it before shifting to breeders.
“Kung mag-aalaga ka talaga ng rabbit, mamumuhunan ka sa kulungan. Mas safe ang rabbit kapag maganda ang kulungan na ginawa natin. Para mas marami ang rabbit na ma-survive kasi kalaban niyan daga, pusa, aso,” he said.
Good breeds of rabbits only take four to five months before butchering foe meat. New-born rabbits only take 30 to 35 days to grow and breeders only rest for a month before reproducing again. Within a year, one doe can be impregnated for six times producing around 10 rabbits per birthing.
Rabbit meat for Palawan market
Clamor said most of the rabbits they raise are those island-born but these are commonly cross-bred to imported rabbits. Even if island-born rabbits are not purely imported, he said that the quality of meet has no huge difference.
Rabbit raisers are also doing cross breeding especially if they have a good breed of buck to create new look of rabbit which is as also an advantage in the market.
In Palawan, there are only less than 10 percent consumption of rabbit meat, a large part of which is contributed by the rabbit raiser themselves, Clamor said.
Rapues meanwhile believes that as meat prices go higher, it is also about time to also increase their meat production in the province. To increase the production, he added that the government may help them to find good breeders outside that could produce fast growing rabbits with good weights.
“Siguro tulungan kami na makahanap ng mas magagandang breeder kasi sa panahon ng COVID, sila ‘yong may chance mag-travel. Kahit ang mga local breeder ay hindi basta maka-import ng hayop. Siguro makakuha tayo sa labas ng malalaking breeder, maitulong nila sa amin para kahit kaunting months lang ay malalaki na ang karne natin,” he said.
Rabbit as meat source
Clamor said that they are still struggling to convince locals to change their mindset about rabbit meat as Filipinos traditionally keep rabbits only as pets.
Rabbit could be a substitute
The presence of rabbit meat could also become another option aside from chicken, pork, and beef meat.
Dr. Darius Mangcucang of Provincial Veterinary Office (ProVet) said he already heard that there are already rabbit-growers in Palawan who have started to produce rabbit meat. He added that as of the moment, the supply of pork in Palawan is not yet in critical condition, but raising a rabbit could be a substitute supply should there be a shortage of other meat products.
“Wala naman problema doon kung maraming mag-aalaga pero syempre hindi pa natin kilala ‘yan sa Palawan. Unti-unting i-introduce iyan para just in case na magkaroon tayo ng kakapusan sa pork ay pwede talagang substitute iyan. Wala naman problema diyan, masarap nga raw ‘yong rabbit,” he said.
Mangcucang also said that their office has no programs yet when it comes to rabbit raising as they are focused with large animals and poultry. He added that they could provide technical support to raisers who would like to ask for help from ProVet.
“Sa rabbit ay hindi pa naman [no programs yet] kasi hindi pa kilala sa atin, sa ibang probinsya ay kilala na iyan pero sa atin ay hindi pa. Iilan lang [sa atin] pero ang rabbit ay mabilis ‘yan lumaki. Pero hindi naman natin dini-discourage ‘yong nag-aalaga niyan kung hihingi naman sila ng tulong sa aming tanggapan ay wala naman problema,” he said.
“Ang gagawin siguro diyan katulad sa LGU, magkakaroon ng parang patikim, kung matatandaan sa crocodile farm nag-invite sila noon at nagluto ng iba’t ibang putahe ng crocodile meat, siguro ganon ang mangyari, bawat munisipyo siguro ganon ang gagawin. Kapag natikman ng mga tao, saka tayo makak-introduce iyan sa market,” he said.
After the recent experience in scarcity of pork supply due to effect of ASF in Philippine hog industry and even with temporary chicken supply shortage due to influenza virus, rabbit meat became a suggestion as an alternative meat source especially from the end of farmers.
The price range of the dressed rabbit usually goes from P300 in El Nido to around P450 in Puerto Princesa City and the price is still varying if it will be intended for lechon or as dressed meat.
Clamor said that one factor that affects the pricing is the availability of resources such as the grass that rabbits consume.
He admitted that at present, the market of meat production is average class due to lesser number of rabbit raisers. The law of supply and demand is applied that is why rabbit meat is seen a bit higher than the regular price of pork and chicken meat.
“Sa ngayon ay average [its market] dahil kaunti pa lang ang nagri-raise ng rabbit pero kung halimbawa, magri-raise ka ng rabbit for the family, pang-masa, more than pa siya sa pang-masa. Sensational lang masyado kasi sa mahirap palakihin ang rabbit sa city pero kung sa farm ka naman, hindi naman siya maselan. Hindi naman siya alagain, morning and afternoon ay solve na,” he said.
“Basta ikaw ang nag-aalaga, ang cost lang ng rabbit ay per kilo kung ikaw ang nag-aalaga at kakatay is less than 100,” he said.